Tony Stewart has been granted a Chase waiver, but he will still have a lot of work to do if he intends to make it into NASCAR's post-season. In a statement from Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer:
"NASCAR received the appropriate medical clearance documentation allowing Tony Stewart to resume normal racing activities. We also have granted the request from Stewart-Haas Racing for a waiver for Tony to be eligible to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. As he begins his final season, we wish Tony the best of luck."
Stewart will still have to get himself a race win and reach the Top 30 in the driver's championship standings in order to make the Chase itself. He currently has 112 points to make up to reach 30th (Matt DiBenedetto) and 18 races to do it.
It's also been several years since the three-time Sprint Cup champion made it into Victory Lane with his 48th and most recent win coming at Dover in June, 2013. Smoke will have to show a visible jump in performance in order to have a shot at becoming one of the final 16.
Last year, NASCAR granted Kyle Busch a Chase waiver after missing the first 11 races. He took full advantage of the opportunity, winning four races before the end of the regular season and a fifth at Homestead, which earned him his first Cup title.
04/21/16 (Update: here is the release from Stewart-Haas Racing)
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Tony Stewart has been cleared by his doctors and NASCAR to return to racing, effective immediately. He will drive the No. 14 Mobil 1 Advanced Fuel Economy Chevrolet SS fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing throughout this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
Stewart missed the first eight races of the season after sustaining a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in a Jan. 31 all-terrain vehicle accident. The prescribed rehabilitation regimen instituted by his doctors following a March 9 evaluation proved successful, allowing the three-time series champion to return for his final Sprint Cup season.
“As soon as the doctors said they were happy with my scans, I wasn’t going to wait any longer to get back in my racecar," said Stewart, who announced last year that he would retire after the 2016 season. “I want to make the most of my last season in Sprint Cup, and I’ve been on the sidelines long enough."
Following Richmond, Stewart will participate in a Goodyear tire test April 26-27 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He will then practice and qualify his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series’ next event at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. However, Stewart will only start the race before yielding the car to Ty Dillon, who split substitute driving duties this year with Brian Vickers.
“We’re taking a strategic approach to my return," Stewart said. “Richmond is a track where I feel very comfortable and because it’s a short track, the speeds are substantially less. The Goodyear test in Indy is sort of a controlled environment, allowing me to get more acclimated with my car at higher speeds. We’ll start the Talladega race to get the points, but understanding the style of racing and the higher potential of getting involved in an incident, we thought it was best to minimize the amount of time I’m in the car. I’ll return fulltime at Kansas and enjoy every moment I can in my final year of Sprint Cup.
“I appreciate everyone’s patience and all the support they’ve given me the last couple of months, but the best medicine will come this weekend at Richmond when I finally get to go racing."
Richmond will mark Stewart’s 591st career Sprint Cup start. Thirty-three of those starts have come at Richmond, where Stewart has three wins, four second-place finishes, 11 top-fives, 19 top-10s and has led a total of 950 laps. Richmond is home to Stewart’s his first career Sprint Cup win, earned on Sept. 11, 1999 when he led 333 of 400 laps.
The 44-year-old has not raced this season after injuring his back in an all-terrain vehicle accident in the offseason.
Stewart had previously announced that 2016 would be his final full-time season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.